On reciprocity and (im)politeness
Jonathan Culpeper and Vittorio Tantucci (Lancaster University)
21st march 2018
In this presentation, I share ongoing work that I have been conducting with Vittorio Tantucci on the notion of reciprocity, specifically in the context of (im)politeness. It begins by pointing out out that reciprocity is a frequent dictum in many religions and legal frameworks, and that, as far as academia is concerned, it has been discussed in social psychology and sociology in particular. The background to our definition of reciprocity is Gouldner's suggestion that it is underpinned by “a generalized moral norm [...] which defines certain actions and obligations as repayments for benefits received” (1960: 170), and the idea of politeness as akin to a social payment (cf. Werkhofer  2005: 170-2, 182-7; Watts 2003: 115). However, unlike these researchers, we do not restrict reciprocity to social 'credits', but include social 'debits'. Reciprocity, in our view, is simply about maintaining a balance of social payments.
Of course, interlocutors do not always comply with reciprocity. For example, in accord with the 'surplus' approach (Kasper 1990; Watts  2005), one way of achieving politeness is to respond to a formulaic ('politic') utterance with a more creatively polite one. Such deviations from reciprocity are of particular interest because they trigger further inferencing and/or reflect social constraints. The presentation will map out and illustrate a matrix of reciprocity options. This matrix plots options according to the interlocutors' (im)politeness thresholds and whether they match or not. In addition, it will describe our current work on reciprocity in the context of requestive exchanges. The interest here is whether the (im)politeness threshold of a request is matched by the (im)politeness threshold of the response. We have been developing a particular method to explore this, involving corpus data, informant testing and a statistical model.
Gouldner, Alvin W. 1960. The norm of reciprocity: A preliminary statement. American Sociological Review:161–178.
Kasper, Gabriele. 1990. Linguistic politeness: Current research issues. Journal of Pragmatics 14 (2):193–218.
Watts, Richard J.  2005. Linguistic politeness research: Quo vadis? In: Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide, and Konrad Ehlich (eds.) Politeness in Language: Studies in its History, Theory and Practice (2nd edn) Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. xi-xlvii.
Watts, Richard J. 2003. Politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Werkhofer, Konrad T.  2005. Traditional and modern views: The social constitution and the power of politeness. In: Richard J. Watts, Sachiko Ide, and Konrad Ehlich (eds.) Politeness in Language: Studies in its History, Theory and Practice (2nd edn) Berlin and New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 155-99.